Monthly Archives: November 2011

To prop or not to prop…. is the question

PropsWeek 4’s theme was mainly about using teaching aids (well, that’s props for some of you and me). During the session, we all had to try and use an object we brought from home as a teaching aid for a mini teaching demo in front of the class. I must say, I am pleasantly surprised to see how effective some of the small objects can be as teaching aids.

Making the lecture “interesting” is one of the yardsticks to measure “good teaching” in higher education. The importance of this aspect is well noted within the UKPSF famework (The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching – K6)

Reid and Johnston (1999) validate the above claim while highlighting the fact that, both teachers and students recognise “interest” as one of the main dimensions (1 out of 6) of good teaching in higher education. Within the same study, they have classified “using teaching aids” as one aspect of making the teaching interesting. However, in that article, they have not made it very clear how teaching aids can make teaching in higher education “interesting”. This is the focus of my blog this week.

Guilty as charged, I do not use teaching aids that often in my lectures (in fact, I can’t remember the last time I used a teaching aid in any of my lectures!). Does that make my lectures “boring” and am I a “bad lecturer?” What are these teaching aids anyway? These are some of the questions came to my mind at the beginning of last week’s PGCAP session with Neil.

Having seen the “mini teaching demos” on using teaching aids, I believe my lectures actually can be made more lively and less monotonous. Is that in synonymous with making them “interesting”?

As mentioned above, I strongly agree with the view that appropriate use of teaching aids has the potential to make lectures interesting. Indeed, I am determined to use teaching aids more often in my lectures. However, I also think that the words “appropriate use” need to be emphasised bit more strongly within this context. In fact, in their seminal book, Brown and Atkins (1988) discuss specifically about tactics to make the lectures in higher education “interesting”. Not surprisingly, in their book, one of the most cited tactics is to use teaching aids. However, they specifically advise to refrain from using highly sophisticated teaching aids in the early stages of the lecture, as that would lead to information overloading resulting in quite the opposite effect to that one would expect.

I guess this brings us to the million pound question, to prop or not to prop? There won’t be one right or wrong answer I think, it depends on the circumstances. However, evaluating various options in teaching and understanding how students learn are important aspects in becoming a good teacher (UKPSF K3 – how students learn, both generally and within their subject /disciplinary area(s)).  In my case, I will use teaching aids in my lectures much more than ever before, but not before thinking twice about the suitability of the aid to the circumstance and especially the audience.

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  • Brown, G. and M. Atkins (1988).Effective teaching in higher education, Routledge.
  • Reid, D. and M. Johnston (1999). “Improving teaching in higher education: Student and teacher perspectives.”Educational Studies (3): 269-281.